Researching chocolate compatibilities with whisky and other foods has meant knocking on many literary and actual doors. Since publishing my book Deep Tasting Chocolate & Whiskey, I've had the privilege to write for Whisky Magazine (UK) and, along the way, was delighted to encounter the writings of Martine Nouet, a leader in pairing food and whisky for over 20 years. A prolific writer in her native French, fortunately, Ms. Nouet's book `A Table: Whisky from Glass to Plate is available in English. Her insights and basic principles are gems. Take her concept of a food bridge. A bridge food uses the texture or flavor of one food to facilitate a favorable interaction between two others. The result is a gustatory triad. Ms. Nouet and I share a regard for specificity. In other words, the exact brand and expression of a whisky matter when attempting to pair. In my experience, it’s the same when attempting to pair chocolate, cheese, or anything else.
Ms. Nouet spent decades experimenting. Meanwhile, a quiet revolution has been going on in food science. Flavor specialists and molecular gastronomists have been busy deriving formulae for successful pairing. One idea that has shown promise is “molecular rhyming,” that is, pairing foods that share molecular compounds. There are websites, such as the subscriber-based foodpairing.com, co-founded by Bernard Lahousse, Peter Coucquyt, and John Langerbich, and IBM’s Chef Watson :https://ibmchefwatson.com. Among several books on the topic is the latest, The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes, by James Briscione of New York’s Institute of Culinary Education and wife Brooke Parkhurst. Contrary to the use of the word “pairing,” the focus is actually enabling home cooks and chefs who want to combine ingredients to create novel dishes rather than simple pairings as ends in themselves. Dining versus tastings. As far as whisky is concerned, both foodpairing.com and Chef Watson lead in including broad categories of whisky. But that’s also their limitation. They do not list specific brands nor distinguish between their expressions. Their databases are more advanced in descriptions of beer and cheese brands than whisky or chocolate, which are, in reality, presented as generic ingredients. Ms. Nouet’s recommendation to consider whisky as a spice when using it as a cooking ingredient is consistent with that approach.
When it comes to tasting two or three individual items, pairing is a matter of subtlety and nuance. Just as the flavor profiles of whisky brands and expressions, chocolate cannot always be reduced to the broad industrial categories of dark, milk and white. Fine chocolate is more than “chocolatey”; it contains complex aromatic and flavor notes, and those flavor profiles must be considered carefully when pairing. The science-based data bases referenced above are simply not yet specific enough.
It’s essential to describe complex flavor profiles when working with artisan or craft chocolate in the context of pairing only two or three items. We need to tease out and appreciate the full spectrum of flavors and textures available to us. This need for specificity extends also to cheese, as I’ve been finding out. A Gouda aged 1-2 years is an entirely different animal than a Gouda aged 4 years. A raw farm house cheddar that whispers barnyard is a world away from the sublime notes of the Dorset's Coastal Cheddar ® or even an unpasteurized (raw milk) cheddar like Montgomery's (also UK). These cheeses will pair with whisky in an entirely different maner too.
Whisky, chocolate, cheese. When I recommend any of these, I know I need to be as specific as possible. So start with a great whisky, then locate a reliable cheese monger and a purveyor of fine, craft (artisan) bean-to-bar chocolate bars or the chocolate-maker's online store.
Let’s try some pairings and triads.
Redbreast 12 year (Ireland) with its rich, sherry-endowed dried fruit notes
pairs beautifully with….
Coastal Cheddar ® (Dorchester, England), aged a minimum of 15 months. It has a nutty and floral nose and a fruity, buttery palate. In a word–superb.
Castronovo (Florida, USA), Sierra Nevada (Columbia) 72%. The profile is fruit and forest.
or, easier to find in the UK–
Akesson’s, Brazil, Fazenda Sempre Firme, 75%. Earthy roast characteristics brings out oak and spice notes in the whisky, then balance the triad completed by the cheese.
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The significant rye presence in the mash bill wins this year’s Kentucky Derby. It goes well with another winner…
Prairie Breeze™ (Iowa, USA). A “Cheddar-type” cheese aged a minimum of 9 months has garnered international awards in the Cheddar category. It has a fresh-lemony and slightly nutty nose. As soon as your teeth sink in, it explodes with depth, cream crumble and perfect salinity.
Creo Chocolate (Oregon, USA), Heirloom Hacienda Li´mon (Ecuador) 73%. A delightfully rich mouthfeel with an earth, fruit and honey-caramel profile
Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey (Washington, USA). Peat in the nose along with orange zest, spice and malt. Herbal palate and roast notes. Cinnamon and smoke finish. But let it breathe a long while and chocolate notes hit you in the face. One great innovator deserves another two …
Bay Blue (California, USA). With caramel in the nose, and dark chocolate on the palate, it’s fudgy mouthfeel still finishes blue.
Fruition Hispaniola 68%,batch 23 (New York, USA) The fruit and spice profile complements the chocolate notes in the Westland perfectly.
or go for a Scottish peated option with…
Ardbeg Peated Single Malt Scotch Whisky 10 year. Peaty and malty, of course, roasted notes, coffee, chocolate and smokey finish.
Colson Bassett Stilton PDO (England). Milk chocolate and butter nose, peanuts and chocolate that bites back. Firm, butter mouthfeel.
Marou (Vietnam)Tien Giang 80%. Spice profile with the power to stand up to any Islay peated. If you prefer a chocolate with less muscle, try the Marou Tien Giang 70%
ALLERGIES ANYONE? Check out my next blog on alternatives for cheese allergies.
(C) copyright 2018 by R. M. Peluso.